Not so sunny Hollywood…

So finally came the morning that we were due to depart for Hollywood – our final destination for this trip.
So we got up and sat outside the front office and waited for out pre-purchased shuttle to arrive.. and we waited a little more… and after an hour.. mum finally decided maybe something had gone wrong… and as she lifted that phone to call the shuttle company that was meant to have collected us an hour ago.. so began a long debate. A debate which pretty much.. resulted in a total 2 hours of waiting around, loosing daylight.. and did not result in.. a pick up or a resolution.
And I cannot even be bothered to go into details of how tedious this whole exchange was to watch.. It was my frustrated parents vs the horrible, shitty service staff of America. And neither are a side I wish to be a part of..
But, what is the important point of this story. Is that only after 2 long hours did my parents give up.. And they gave up.. because they had to.. And because no progress was being made in our getting to Hollywood AT ALL.. and this leads to an important moral of the story.. Which is that SuperShuttles is NOT a company to be relied upon. They should not be relied upon to pick you up on time. They should not be relied upon to pick you up in general. And they should not be relied upon to fix I problem if they are to cause one.
And actually after 2 hours of arguing about how we were going to make it to Hollywood in the light of their terrible service.. I was faced with the confusion of choosing between feelings of admiration towards my mums persistence… and mourning over the amount of time that had been wasted… I guess one can feel both.

Any way thank goodness the receptionist at the hotel was aware of a more reliable driver who could match the price that we had already paid for the first no-show shuttle. So without wasting any further time, we jumped on her offer to give him a call. And somewhere around 3 hours later than intended.. we were on our way to Hollywood!

It was only a short drive from Anaheim to Hollywood. About an hour or so. And the ride was smooth and the driver was lovely once we did manage to get on our way.
However when we arrived we did have one more surprise.. Becaus well… Hollywood.. for all its glamorous movie screen hype.. is damn well derelict.. And further.. the hotel we were staying in.. Was apparently on the side of town where you don’t go walking at night time..The side of town where you don’t carry your valuable possessions around in the view of any body else.. The side of town where the possibility of your being mugged if you are to walk the street alone is high enough to demand warnings from 3 seperate individuals.
And this side of town. Was literally 1 block down from the Hollywood “Walk of Fame”.. We weren’t staying in some abstract, far away town on the edge of Hollywood. We were staying IN Hollywood.. It’s just not what you imagine.

So any way, our first day was limited due to our late arrival and the multiple warnings we had been given about being out in the area after dark.. so we took a brisk walk up to the “Walk of Fame” and had a browse through some of the many many souvenir stores that were along that Boulevard.
In fact all that was really along that Boulevard was souvenir stores, adult “toy” and dress up stores and “smoke” shops… and some how the only clothing mall and all the restaurants were right in the middle of it.. so we had to endure a wonderful family stroll past all of these elaborate store fronts before we could find somewhere to sit down for dinner.. But we were fortunate in our journey to happen upon a red carpet premier, which was setting up for the arrival of the actors in the Wedding Crashers movie which is about to come out in cinemas. So we got some Mexican at at restaurant across the road and sat upstairs where we had a perfect view of what was going on. And although this movie doesn’t really contain any “A-list” performers.. I was really surprised that there weren’t any fans crowding out our spot, because we really did have the perfect view. There was only one other person there.. With his big, professional camera and super-zoom lense. A legitimate paparazzi who had all of the information on who was turning up here and at what time. And also knew who was having dinner across town.. so we ended up spending the next 2 hours sitting there eating dinner and listening to how exactly it is that he makes a living off invading the privacy of other people..
I definitely do not admire the people of the paparazzi to say the least.. I don’t but into fashion magazines. I don’t care about the names of actors. I would never buy something because someone else was seen in something similar.. I like to be.. relatively individual. I like to think and make decisions for myself without “tips” from random strangers trying to make a sale.. And I didn’t particularly like anything about this guy.. Although I can appreciate that at a red carpet event, “celebrities are literally there to have their picture taken.. so the man was doing no wrong in this scenario. However he was sitting there the whole time, undecided about whether he would get a bigger pay out shooting at this event, or sneeking across town to crash some one else’s dinner reservation and get some shots there.. I’m glad that in this instance he took the moral high ground.. and no doubt the next day, some fashion magazine printed out a million copies of the same, manipulative information that it prints out every week. But this time, with his picture included.

Day two was tour day! And after how much I had utterly thrived on the experience of watching “celebrities” stand in front of flashing cameras on day one.. you can imagine how excited I was to now be boarding an 8 man, roofless bus for a tour around the “celebrity” houses of Hollywood and Beverly Hills..
OK the truth is I wasn’t that excited (just in case my sarcasm doesn’t completely transcribe through text).
BUT I was interested in looking at nice houses.. regardless of who ever it was that was living in them. I think if I go back to uni for anything it’ll be interior design or architecture..
So anyway! This tour went for maybe 4 hours, and took us out to both the Hollywood Hills and Beverly Hills. And as it turns out, Beverly Hills is actually a beautiful suburb! Its all palm-tree lined streets, green curbs and clean mansions. . In contrast the Hollywood Hills.. well..I can’t really understand why any one would pay so much to live out there.. its really just another suburb on windy, hilly streets with a view over a very smoggy, dirty city below.. I would undoubtedly want to choose Beverly Hills if I had the money.. BUT in saying that… the class division between the Beverly Hills “elite” and the working class Hollywood.. is SO clear..that its all disgusting. In fact when you drive down the street that marks the divide between Beverly Hills and the rest of Hollywood.. you can literally see the division, because one side of the road is lined with palm trees while the other one is lined with regular trees… In Beverly Hills the fire hydrants are also silver instead of red, the street signs are white instead of blue.. and apparently even the police arrive in a more timely manner than in any other suburb.. its crazy. The place distinguishes itself from every where and every one else in every way possible..
And of course there were security cameras and guards at many of the homes to try and protect the residents against.. well.. the likes of us and our tour guides.
So after looking into the lives of others for several hours we all de-boarded the bus back on Hollywood Boulevard. And as we got out we noticed a significant crowd of people lining up to watch the Jimmy Kimmel show live. Which would have actually been cool to see! I love live comedy and my little brother would have loved to see how TV is filmed (as he aspires to be an actor) – but unfortunately after standing in line for 2 hours to find out if there would be any last minute empty seats for the show.. we were told the answer was ‘no’. SO we settled for Mexican dinner instead.
And then Shane (my little brother) was due to meet with an American friend of his back at our hotel.. so we rushed back with him and met his friend. And she actually took us all to a very cute market place out by her flat and to the Hollywood Planetarium! Which was cool. The marketplace was probably the highlight of Hollywood for all of us. I found a whole store of stickers! Which I loved. And we all enjoyed doing some last minute gift shopping and finding some food.
And it was a good way to spend our last night together.
Because at 4am the next morning my little brother was off to the airport to catch his flight home to New Zealand.. and mum and dad left later in the afternoon to do the same.
And although I cannot deny that I was ready to leave America, and was ready to leave my family for a while.. it was sad to say goodbye, knowing that I wasn’t going home with them. And knowing that I had no plans to be home in the near future..
BUT as my last night in the USA began, and as I checked into my final hotel alone.. I was excited to get to my next stop – London!

Sunny Los Angeles!

Well, by far LA was the most exciting stop of our trip. There are SO many more theme parks there than I realized! And other things to do there besides. So we actually did this destination in two parts – 3 days in Anaheim, 1 day in transit and our last 2 days in Hollywood.
In Anaheim it was all the theme parks. So day one was Disney Land, day two – Knotts Berry Park and Day three – California Land. Every one of the parks really was big enough that we needed a whole day for each. My favourite for rides… Was Knotts Berry. Their lines were really reasonable, the park was really well laid out so that it wasn’t too hard to get around.. Although it was still huge! And the rollercoasters were just generally cool. Even if they did throw you around and rattle a LOT more than what I now realise are the extremely well engineered ones on the Gold Coast… We went on one in particular which was really different – it was a western/cowboy theme, where you sat on a model of a horse instead of in a seat.. your legs were locked in of course to the horses sides and then.. you just go flying. I think that one was my favourite. Also there was a MASSIVE one called the Ghost Rider which was too big to even fit inside the park itself. So while you ride it, you exit the park and fly across the street and around the car park.. and its brilliantly set out so that as you reach the first peak.. you can see the rest of the length of the rollercoaster laid out for a couple of miles in front of you. And this means.. that the whole time.. your unsure how much longer you’ve got to be strapped in for.. and that one really did throw you around in the carriage too! Mum reckons she even earnt some bruises.
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California land was the coolest in terms of design and atmosphere. The different “lands” (eg: Cars Land, Bugs Life Land etc) were all perfect replicas of the movies that they came from.
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And there was also a really big, beautiful ferris wheel that looked over the “pier” there.. which was just generally stunning to see in the background of everything that was going on.
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We went on the Ferris wheel too! And it was very interesting as we boarded to become aware of mums usually unnoticeable fear of heights.. which I may have been aware of in the back of my mind.. but, I guess I’ve just never heard her make a great fuss about it.. and regardless she handled our whole double circle really well.. But the weird thing I guess was that I hadn’t realized up untill that point.. how fearless and strong I generally think of my mum as being.. somehow, I have always thought of her as .. Well, quite indestructible. And actually.. I still do.

We caught a parade at California land too! And the parades both there and at Disneyland were both really excellent (California Land is actually run by, and right next door to Disney. But it focuses on the Disney-Pixar side of the enterprise as opposed to mickey and Minnie..). The floats were all beautifully designed and the characters that ran alongside were all brilliant performers. My brother’s favourite was Belle – from Beauty and the Beast. I think my favourites were the completely random but very rose cheeked snowmen. But I really did love it all. And for us both I think the parade was the most magical part of Disneyland. Especially considering the long lines, huge crowds and general design of the place – which was SO much directed at little children.
And of course I know that Disneyland was made for children.. but I kind of still expected some interesting rollercoasters and some general amusement for the whole family – or for the slightly older siblings at least. And Disneyland lacked that…
BUT I’ve course that’s not to say that it wasn’t worth it! – I had actually been told pretty much exactly that fact by a friend in Canada before we arrived.. and Disneyland is just one of those things.. that you have to see for yourself. Because no matter how many people tell you that you are too old for it. You’ll always be curious if you don’t just go and have a look..
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And we got to meet Mickey Mouse too!
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And actually… Although it isn’t at all a significant part of Disney.. the Lego store.. had some really cool stuff going on! The things that had been built there to adorn the store… were crazy good! .. And we had to add our own little pretzel hating chef to the mix.
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Ultimately though, after having experienced all of the parks.. My opinion is that California Land and Knotts Berry Park were both better than Disneyland. Or at least that was the case for our family.
And after 3 days of amusement parks I was more than ready to move on and get back to some regular, more stable tourist activities. So the morning we we’re due to leave for Hollywood was welcome.. If only the transition had gone as smoothly as it had been planned to be.

Vegas Baby!

OK.. Blogging has been almost impossible with the crappy crappy hotel internet we have found in the final two destinations of this family trip.. SO now that I have arrived in beautiful London! (to be blogged about next) I better write down how the rest of America actually was.

SO after New York we jumped on a plane and were off to Las Vegas! Which was in the most basic of terms..Just SO much better than New York. The whole town is like a theme park for grown ups – even the airport is filled with slot machines!.
Actually the airport itself was the first adventure – it’s so big that we had to catch an indoor train to the baggage collection area..
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Then we checked into the hotel – which wasn’t one of the themed ones on the main strip, but was a nice place (Embassy Suites) just one street back from that main strip. It was a nicer room than we got in New York, with more space and free breakfast each morning and free cocktails for a couple of hours each night.. Sooooo a pretty sweet deal. I would definitely go back there with friends over a summer.  And although this holiday was afforded by my parents… I imagine it’d be a much cheaper deal than staying on the main strip in peak holiday season (this is where we spent New Years).

So anyway for our first night in Vegas we just settled into the hotel and waited for my little brother to get in – who having decided to join the whole ‘America’ trip rather late in the planning stage, had a different flight time to the rest of us.. It wouldn’t have been a long wait… BUT he was delayed significantly when he was somehow… accidentally.. checked in.. to a flight on its way to Peurto Rico instead of Las Vegas… Anyway this was a mistake that he was really fortunate to pick up on before he boarded.. Because honestly, I am not sure I would have noticed with all of the flight codes and announcements that compete with one another in airports.. BUT regardless, and despite this mistake being completely out of his control and not at all any fault of his.. the always rarely helpful airport flight staff were apparently reluctant to create a solution.. Which meant he was forced to spend several hours in the New York airport waiting on STAND-BYE to see if there would be room on the next flight to Vegas for him – A flight which he had booked. A flight which he had booked several months in advance, and which he was taken off of because of a mistake made by the check-in clerk of Delta Airlines…
The ultimate result was that he didn’t arrive in at Las Vegas until close to midnight. BUT I suppose he did arrive.

Then, on day two (after a delicious free buffet breakfast) we set out to explore ‘The Strip’ – which is the main street of Las Vegas where all of the themed hotels, shows and general action is. We only made it as far as seeing two of the HUGE shopping malls before we ran out of day… Those things are just so easy to get lost in for hours at a time! And that was despite the fact that we did almost no shopping at all!
The first mall was the Canal Shoppes which is themed to look as if you are walking through a Venetian street, and I guess alongside the Grand Canal in Venice.. because it is complete with a no-expense-spared canal which runs through right through the centre of the mall. AND it actually has gondolas! AND singing punters! Its incredible to see. AND the roof of the shopping centre is made to look like a fine day in Venice, with blue skies and clouds painted overhead. AND there was delicious, delicious gelato. Which we wasted no time in trying. OH! and there was also a beautiful water fountain feature and an impressive chandelier just inside the front entrance. AND at the back entrance was a beautifully painted ceiling, with a generic bodies-in-the-sky kind of scene… I’m not really sure what you call those scenes.. There’s probably a proper name for them… Anyway! the whole thing was amazing from the first look.
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And then the second mall was called The Forum Shops and it was just as amazing. This one had a massive water feature inside it’s front doors which was guarded by several gigantic Caesar statues. And these statues all stood reaching up to the ceiling.. which was 3 stories above. Further, the staircase to the upper levels – which was actually a moving escalator – was a winding one, which curved around yet another impressive Roman themed statue. AND after mid-day there were hourly shows in one of the many central spaces within this mall. because I mean of course.. all of these spaces had their own gorgeous water fountains.. So this show was with moving statues. It was also within a water feature, and it casually included both water and fire as two Roman Gods battled against one another for their father’s throne. OH! and there was a floor to ceiling aquarium with fish AND stingrays. And the ceilings were the same, beautifully painted blue skies and clouds as we found in the Canal Shoppes.
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And of course although these indoor spaces were gorgeous! We also the general scene of ‘The Strip’ from the outdoors. Where the streets were immaculately clean, and the day was beautifully clear and we got to see all of the well known hotels in their fully impressive and towering states. The Eiffel Tower, Caesars Palace, The Mirage, The golden Trump tower etc etc etc. AND we even caught the iconic water show that takes place outside of Caesars Palace.
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Needless to say, we were very pleased with Vegas after out first day out sight seeing and we were very aware of how much there really was to see in this city. So on day three we headed out again and prioritised booking in to see a show! Which ended up being one by The Blue Man Group, and it was really good! It was kind of like a really creative music/comedy show with all kinds of special effects and giant floating eyeballs and audience participation and even a little bit of education – as it was explained how it is that people see and perceive the things around them. And by the end of the show there were rolls of toilet paper and giant, flashing, inflatable balls being thrown out into the audience, and there was music blasting and lights flashing and everyone was encouraged to get up and dance! ..And although the audience that we were a part of was quite demure… It really was an impressive finale for the show.
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But actually this was an evening show.. So I should also mention that before hand we spent that day exploring the streets of ‘old Vegas’, which was just a short way out from The Strip by bus. And although this area was not nearly as clean and fancy as the more modern Vegas found along The Strip, it was pretty cool to see. I guess really though.. It was largely just more casinos and slot machines..
We did also have a walk around one of quite a few outlet centres that Vegas is home to.. But there we really only discovered that even the “cheap” outlet centres of Vegas are very high end. So we actually barely entered any of them..
Vegas is very much full of those typical, generically expensive brand names like Gucci and Louis Vuitton and Ferrari – the type of brand names people buy so that they can say that they buy them. The type of brand names that even when made affordable by outlet centres, I am very proud to say, my family has no particular affection towards.. The type of brands that I shall not waste any more space mentioning further.. SO, any way, after another day on our feet exploring we had an awesome buffet dinner at the hotel where the “Blue Man” show was being held (buffets are really popular in Vegas).. Although we did have to shovel it down a wee bit to make sure we got to the show on time..

And then… it was an early wake up on day three to make our way to The “Grand Canyon”! A trip which was made via a couple of buses.. and of which we missed the first one.. due to what I can only assume was a minor mis-communication between my mother and the bus company.. However fortunately! The first bus was only the one which took us from our hotel to the main bus depot.. so after some rather rushed bag packing and a quick and last minute call for a cab, we did manage to catch the main bus in time! And from there.. we spent the rest of the day on that bus.. As it turns out going to see the Grand Canyon from Vegas is a very popular 16 HOUR journey which stops at the canyon in two different spots for a total of something like.. 60 minutes…
Which was a bus:canyon time ratio which we weren’t particularly excited about, and honestly didn’t really understand untill we boarded the bus… But.. The Canyon is just something that has to be seen in America. And.. it really was astonishingly vast. In some ways.. it even lost some of it’s impressiveness through its significant size, because it was just impossible to comprehend how deep and how wide it really was.. I’ve course I have never seen any thing like it any where else before. And I don’t doubt in the least that there is no other trench or pit or canyon or valley in this world that would come even remotely close to ” The Grand Canyon” in size. But it is so big.. that you can’t see the whole thing at once.. And in a really strange way that takes away from it just a little bit. Its very hard to explain. But.. I’ll put in a picture here anyway.. which won’t do it any justice and won’t explain it’s size at all..and I really, I guess that’s exactly what I am trying to say..
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Oh, and of course on the way out we passed over Hoover Dam, which was a pretty massive feat of human engineering. Again, it’s size was incomparable. And it was very cool for myself to see.. knowing that the Transformers hid the all spark there once upon a time ;).
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And day four was new years eve day! And also.. the day I had finally come to the point of getting over being on holiday with my family. So I went out and had some lazy coffee by myself and wandered the strip one last time. And actually ended up spending the night on the couch watching television and avoiding the loud crowds of The Strip – I had had a big enough dose of crowds to last me a life time after New York.. and I watched the fireworks go off at midnight from the hotel balcony while the rest of the family battled the crowds and wished to be above the hectic street level. So I don’t regret my choice to stay at home at all… New Years has truly never been my holiday.. It’s always passed by relatively un-noticed on my behalf.. And that’s not to say I don’t like to drink and party.. but rather I just don’t require a once yearly excuse to do so.. and as hospitality is my field of choice.. it’s normally just a really long night of work for me..

And then of course.. day 5 was the 1st of January.. and we spent the day walking the remaining length of The Strip which we had been distracted from by malls on our first day. And of course also making some last ditch souvenir and gift purchases.. and we even caught another show – this time by a German illusionist who was pretty good, and did leave us stumped on a couple of his tricks.. but after some post-show discussion we were pretty determined we had also figured out quite a few of them.. and it is a shame to realise that I have become too old to just take magic at it’s face value and accept it as something which is truly unbelievable.. but I do find it hard to accept that any adult in the audience would have whole-heartily believed that the man was a wizard and not a performer.. then again.. people believe all kinds of crazier things. Heck! We’re still debating over marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples because some people believe they deserve more rights than others.. it is indeed and gained crazy society that we live in.

AND finally on day 5 we were off to our final destination – LA!!

Getting lost in the tourist crowd.

OK. This is going to be a BIG one…We have now been in New York for seven full days. And I actually feel like we have done a damn excellent job at getting out there and ticking off all of the generic sights.. Which has been great.. And it has really been cool to see and mess around with the family again.. But for the large part.. its not been as worldly or spiritually satisfying or moving as some of the experiences which I really do love to write about on here.. However, I shall construct a list of all of the things we have seen/places we have been while here any way, and some more moving moments are bound to find there way in there…

1. Ground Zero. Otherwise known as the Twin Towers/World Trade Center Tribute. This was actually really stunning. Probably largely due to the fact that I went into the whole experience completely unprepared, and without having seen a photograph. But basically, where the two twin towers used to stand, two giant tribute fountains have now been placed. And these things are massive. you can just tell that no expense has been spared. And the names of all of those who were lost on the day of the 9/11 (2001) terrorist attacks, and actually also during an earlier attack within the same premises in 1993, are cut into a beautifully finished plaque which surrounds the two fountains on all sides.. And it is quite a numbing experience to see in an illustration like this, just how many people were lost in those attacks, because a number as large as 2,753 is otherwise really quite hard to imagine..
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And of course, a new tower (The Freedom Tower) has also been erected to replace the two which were lost. And I really am unsure if that is an act of pure pride.. or was a necessary development in rebuilding a broken community… But either way.. It is a cleverly engineered glass building, which is an only slightly irregular upright rectangle shape – like most office buildings you find in a city scape.. However.. from directly below, appears to be.. a pyramid.. This is a concept which is easier to explain with photos…

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2. The Macy’s Christmas window display. I actually got way too excited about this one.. Its just a window display… But people actually line up to walk along and get a good view of it all.. And for some reason it was all based on the solar system this year, with a window for each planet… But they were really well done! And it did some how emphasize the spirit of Christmas.. Must be something about all of that crowdy madness..
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3. Macy’s department store. Of course being close enough to see the window display, we had to go and check out the inside too.. Which was actually something like the outside madness multiplied by 10.. The whole place was packed out! And everything was appropriately and beautifully dressed for Christmas..
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We went all the way up to the top floor (which I think would have been floor 6 or 7..) and meandered through the Christmas department, which was decked out with trees and decorations and nutcrackers and candles and all sorts. And then we even waited in line for at least half an hour.. waiting to purchase a single, carefully selected decoration… And.. Being a hospitality student… I must say.. That line could have moved MUCH faster.. If only ALL of the staff behind the counter were properly trained.. and weren’t just generally pissing around with their cellphones and social lives.. Especially at one of the stores busiest times of year, in one of the most popular departments.. Where was management..

4. Time Square. This is one part of the city that I am well and truly sick of.. Its hectic. Like.. Its really really hectic. Every time we make it to this center, we regret it… Its just so darn busy, the crowds move so slowly, and really all that’s going on.. Is shopping.. Which doesn’t particularly interest any of us (Bless my non-materialistic family – We do hold some values in common..).
And the corporate giants have never been more present. And I guess that’s exactly what the fascination with this place might be.. Or what it should be any way (let’s face it, people are obsessed with material possession – purchasing is the fascination).. Because it is amazing to walk into a square as big as this and just feel the billion dollar marketing efforts pressing down on you.. And then to see the instant effects it has on the population – A population of millions of international people from all over the world who come to this one place to give in to the manipulation of these giants.. And while they are distracted with looking up at the bright lights and pretty colours, they crash into one another constantly. And it is tiresome.
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5. Central Park. Well.. it is truly quite a big park. And probably one of my favourite sites of those we have seen, although the pathways always take you in completely unexpected directions, and the maps are particularly useless.. However we still managed to find the Museum of Natural History, the Alice in Wonderland statue, a couple of pretty lakes, a damn awful street pretzel.. actually that one is a point of its own.. I’ll write more on that one.. Also, several tropically colored birds, a playground with a cave, and a small 2 man orchestra playing a cello and a violin under a picturesque bridge. So all in all, it was a pretty good days walk.
And I cannot understate the pleasure of hearing bird life and seeing greenery in the middle of a North American winter.. It seems for some reason the councilors of both Toronto and New York have never thought of planting ever-green tree varieties within their cityscapes, and the result is a pretty bleak and dead/apocalypse look.. And of course no trees to nest in, means no birds.. and no beautiful bird noise. Which has left a hole in not only my own, but several of the Australian and New Zealand exchange students lives over the last 4 months. It’s just completely unnatural for us to not hear nature screaming to make itself heard 24/7 – whether it be tuis, ravens, sparrows, or cicadas.. And the absence of this regular summer time music has been sorely noted. Actually I guess that’s why people think New Zealand is so green. It’s all relative. And, you never know what you have till its gone.
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6. Street pretzels. OK. So these street pretzels.. they’re awful. Don’t bother. It’s just really really yeasty bread which you can get in 2 varieties – hard or soft. Which turns out to be code for: Rock solid or undercooked (respectively). Neither are good. Both are questionable forms of food. The salt.. Makes it worse.
However our eagerness to try these alleged “food products” did lead to an excellent string of jokes. Which I won’t list.. but which revolved around the number of ways someone could die by pretzel (including being stabbed by a sharpened pretzel stick), how difficult it must be to pass a pretzel, and also the general unwillingness of the park birds and squirrels to eat our unwanted pretzel shards.
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7. The New York subway system. OK.. not really an attraction or a sight to see… But this has been a particular thrill for mum and dad.. And I am surprised to say, the New York subway system is quite easy to navigate and pretty much explains itself as long as you have a map, and know where you’re going (as is generally helpful with all systems..). However this same point, means that it is apparently impossible for my mother to navigate… (and so it is probably also impossible for any other indecisive, slow moving individuals who lack all forms of a sense of direction). None the less, in following the lead of the young, we were never once lost in the New York subway. Thank goodness.
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8. The Museum of Natural History. This was one of the stops we found during our day of strolling central park. Although the museum itself is not actually located within Central park..But it is literally just across the street, and therefore was worth a look. Pretty much, I assume the excitement for the place must have been significantly aided by the Night at the Museam movies.. because it was packed. And yet, wasn’t necessarily as excellent as the number of patrons would lead you to believe it should be. Basically it is a museum based specifically on human and animal history and broken up into continental categories. This means that there is a LOT of taxidermy.. which is cute I guess.. and excellent for children. But not so much my passion.. What was particularly funny was that all of the information posts in front of the human history exhibits deliberately and quite pointedly set out to disprove commonly held misconceptions about each artifact. And this caught out my little brother on two occasions, by quite snarkily denouncing non-facts which he legitimately believed to be true.. And unintentionally, I guess this lead to a learning experience for all of us. So maybe the museum wasn’t so bad.. There were just too many people there.

9. Madame Tussauds. This was pretty fun. Actually when I think about it.. Running around among a group of wax celebrities, of which several have now passed away is quite an unusual amusement.. But none the less we were able to easily waste hours here, posing in ridiculous fashions with a huge number of well known faces (both deceased and currently living).
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10. New York public Library. This building was actually one of my favourites. It was gorgeous. And it was huge. And it is not just a tourist object, it is actually a currently functioning library.. Which I imagine is quite annoying for the people who do go there to check out a book.. Because the place was over-run by tourists snapping pictures anyway. But I can’t deny.. I too was one of those photo snapping tourists, and my sympathy for the legitimate library members was not enough to persuade me to put my camera down as I witnessed the beautiful art and architecture of the many reading rooms and arch ways.
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11. Grand Central terminal. This place was also amongst the favourites. Functionally it is just a subway terminal… but it is MASSIVE. And the central room has a huge, high dome ceiling painted in a beautiful turquoise, with stars and zodiac signs across it. And it’s huge arch ways, numerous stair cases and thick, polished surfaces just give the whole place a generally mystical or ancient-ruins type of feel. Of course it was unfortunate that, like everywhere else on he thus trip, it was crowded with people. However here at least, there were less tourists, and there was more movement.
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12. St Patricks’ Cathedral. A little disappointing was the fact that this stop was pretty much completely covered in scaffolding on the inside.. which absolutely detracted from the beauty of what I imagine the place held. So for us this was actually quite an un-remarkable stop.. However I do imagine from the height that the scaffolding reached up, that it would have been amazing it people weren’t in the process of messing with it.

13. The Rockefeller center. This building is impressive from the outside. Its lean and tall and just generally sleek and modern. Its lit up purple at night (I don’t know why) so it stands out in the skyline.
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And as its the Christmas season, all around the outside of the building are night markets, a giant Christmas tree, decorative angels, giant Christmas decoration monuments (unsure if those are there all year or not.. but they are pretty big to have to lug in every year) and.. of course.. huge crowds of people.. (Being in New York for a week has really helped me to realize how much I hate people.. and crowds in particular).
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As for the inside… it was even more so over run by tourists. And although there is apparently an amazing view from the top.. we never made it up because the line to get in the lift was so significant.. and I don’t regret that decision. The spaces within the Rockefeller building were not the gand and open ones that you find throughout most of American architecture.. they were closed and cramped and connected through all too many hallways.
And the lighting was horrible. Which I can admit is an unusual aspect to note.. but it was really dark in there…
I can also admit that being in a crowded building on the bottom floor is something that maybe I am instinctively hyper-aware of after the Canterbury earthquakes in 2011.. However being in those conditions in America… evokes greater feelings of insecurity and nervousness for me, than I would feel at home or in Canada.. As a country America has simply passed too many people off and encouraged the attention of too many “terrorist” motions.
So leaving without getting into a lift, was perfectly fine with me.

14. Chinatown… theres a stop which is probably the same no matter where you are in the world… pretty much just a couple streets of generic Asian restaurants, cheap plastic crap and fake branded rip-offs.

15. The statue of liberty. Not as big as I had been lead to believe it would be through the media.. But I have no major qualms with the thing.
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Again this is a sight which was over run by tourists (but that was completely to be expected). Pretty much the statue is on its own little island – Liberty Island – Which you have to ferry out to.. When you get out there, all there really is to do it walk a circle around the statue and buy cheap souvineers. The island is no theme park or party island thats for sure. Although some people did buy packages to have a look inside the statue.. but I had been told that again, theres not all that much to see in there.. So all we did was the walk around the outside. You can investigate a few information posts and listen to an audio tour as you walk around depending on how invested you are in the statue.. I just read the posts, because after the first 20 minutes of audio tour I felt too much like I was listening to porpaganda and was being brain washed by rediculously biased facts about America and their ‘oh-so-fair-and-open-ways’. I guess I can understand thay for many people escaping poverty and war-time conditions and depression and joblessness in their home countries, this lady statue was the first sign they saw of freedom. And she probably did offer some hope to such arriving immigrants who were in search of a new beginning. But for many she would also come to represent the first sign of opression, social rejection, exclusion and discrimination. And then of course for some others, actually reaching the land of America would never be an achieved goal, they would be halted at the gates on Ellis Island after hours or sometimes days of processing.. And I understand that that would possibly have been a minority group.. It depends on which media outlets you listen to and believe, but all I’m saying is that the audio tour… conveniently forgot about all those troubles.
What was more interesting was Ellis Island.

16. Ellis Island. Ellis Island is another small Island that Immigrants would actually pass through (they wouldnt get off on Liberty Island like we did, they would simply pass it by – That island was purely in place for its intangible meaning, not any functiobnal purpose). This island was home to the proccessing buildings which housed the critics who would ultimately determine whether a given traveller would be allowed into the United States to live or not. In other words it was here that immigrants would be subject to the medical and interview-based tests which were conducted to ensure a person met the requirements deemed desireable by the states. And it was here that the green card was issued, or where a traveller was sent home.
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Of course today Ellis Island is no longer the center for such things, and instead Immigrants are processed in a newer facility based on the main land. So for us, the Ellis Island processing center has been converted into a museam explaining its own history. And this was quite interesting to view. Unlike the Liberty Island audio tour, this museam included excellent exhibits which contrasted the opinions of the local Americans and foregin immigrtants of the time, directly alongside one another. And it was hillarious. Where an American would claim that the Chinese could not bend to their societal norms, a Chinese man would claim that current immigrants already were.. Where an American would claim that the Chinese were too different, a Chinese immigrant would claim both nations were much alike… Contrasting letters that were not written to one another, but rather were composed in unioson and delivered to a third party were broken down and laid out alongside one another.. and it was just brilliantly done.

17. Wall Street. OK when we got to this one it was actually night time, and outside of business hours, and not alot was going on.. But it was another one of those sights that had to be seen. And so we saw it. It would have been more awesome to see during the day, when the place was crazy with shouting business men like you imagine and see in movies.. But I was quite satisfied having a nosey around the outside, as the whole building was a big, nobel looking place, and the streets directly outsdie it were actually even fenced off – Which I assume is to prevent tourists getting in the way during business hours.
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18. TGI Friday’s. This is not so much a sight to see… But is generically American none the less. My mum and my little bother and I stopped in here for dinner on one of our nights in New York, and we were all really pleased with the food.. and the dessert! It was all so good, and the portion sizes were generous too. Actually it was exactly what we had hoped for in an American diner. And the whole place is set up with the generic, red, booth seeting and of course old school sign posts and ads adorne the walls to complete the experience.. I must admit.. We all struggled to move by the end of it.

19. A show off-Broadway. OK there are a LOT of shows both on and off Broadway. And these two terms simply mean that you can either see a show on the street that is called Broadway (on Broadway) OR, on another street within New Yorks CBD (off Broadway).. I can only assume that the on-Broadway shows must be those which are the most popular and feature the most adored “stars”.. because I guess other wise Broadway wouldn’t have such a recognisable name.. However. None the less, we chose to go to one of the off-Browadway shows. It was one called This is our youth and it featured Micheal Cera. Which was pretty cool.
The theater itself was pretty quaint and cute, and the whole show was set within one room – so featured only one stage setting. There was a grand total of only three actors.. And the show was alright. Definately nothing to rave about. But I guess it was another experience that had to be had (and any way, after seeing The Book of Mormon in Toronto, I wasn’t expecting to see aything as well done as that show was for quite some time – That one was brilliant, and hillarious the whole way through). Any way seeing a show is undoubtedly a good way to waste some time if nothing else, and I find that the atmosphere involved in going out to see a live theater piece pretty much always enjoyable, regardless of what it is you are actually watching… Then again. I don’t doubt that there are some really truley aweful pieces out there.. This wasn’t one of those ones. It was just a standard piece.

20. Brooklyn Bridge. On Christmas day we decided to get out and walk across the Brooklyn bridge. And it was pretty cool. If anything it was weird to be outside and actually doing a walk on Chirstmas day, as oposed to just sitting around and eating, as most Christmases go.. But it was a nice change! And from the Brooklyn bridge you can look over to the Manhatten bridge, so you can view both beautiful items of architechture at the same time..
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I think we all agreed that the Manhatten bridge was the prettier of the two, but I am not sure if you could actually walk across that one.. And you got the better view of it from the distance of the Brooklym bridge any way. It was not at all a long walk either, and we managed to get a clear day to do it, so it was nice to breathe some fresh air and get out of the busy time square and central city area for a day. However, this is not to say that the bridge was not packed with tourists.. Because it absolutely was. Actually a side rant is in order here..

– Everywhere we went in New York was absolutely packed with tourists. People crowded at every generic spot, taking photos and taking selfies (I swear… The “Selfie-stick” is one of my least favourite inventions, in the world, to date). And this meant that movement any where within the city on foot.. was excrutiatingly slow.. there were just too many people competeing to take photos of their own faces in front of each and every one of the cities generic icons.. AND add to this self-love, the fact that there was inevitably a group of tourists who couldn’t speak english, who were lost or who needed to stop to pull out a map or just generally talk to one another in the middle of a high traffic footpath.. And walking through New York city became a congested and stressful ordeal..
By the end of 1 week here (over the Christmas period) the whole family had had enough. And for the sake of seeing sights that we all have seen overdone in the public media anyway.. I know that I wouldn’t choose to do it again. Expecially because the media has a tendency to raise your expectations.. So seeing things like The Statue of Liberty in real life.. for me.. was not as impressive as I had been lead to believe it would be or as I had hoped it would be.. Which is not to say that I regret seeing these things, undoubtably there is a difference between seeing a picture of a thing and actually going and seeing that thing for yourself.. I just.. I guess I do think the whole ‘New York’ deal is extremely over-rated..
ALSO – Another side rant – The serivce staff throughout the whole city were MISERABLE! And I know how hard the industry is to work in.. I know how challenging it can be to resist punching some customers in the face.. I’ve been in that industry for the last eight years, and intend to continue within it as I travel and build a career in management.. BUT! I expect polite service when I go out.. And if you cannot pretend to be happy, and smile for the next customer – ESPECIALLY when you are expecting TIPS for your service – Then you are in the WRONG industry, and I hope you are looking for your next job..
I would not have tipped any one in New York above the minimum requirements (and I didn’t..). And most of the staff I encountered were lucky, and cheeky enough to have their tips automatically included in the bills we were given.. Which actually, for obvious reasons very much frustrated me.. I know very many hard working, happy service staff in New Zealand who deserve those tips a hell of a lot more than these miserable and extremely unhelpful individuals did..
OH! and vegetarians (like myself).. Were really not catered for in what I experienced of this hot dog and burger loving city..
Additionally.. Although I believe my personal non-love of this city is really a result of the above rants and of the fact that it is just not at all my type of place.. I did have to do it all with my family. And where friends would probably have lightened the mood.. My family.. Just stress me out more.. In fact I have concluded (finally, after nearly 22 years..) that we are not a group who should travel together for extended periods of time. My family, when forced into a single hotel room together for more than one week, don’t work out.

Phew. SO the final number in the countdown! ..

21. Little Italy. We had actually quite a commical meal here. The small restaurant was run by a full family of genuine Itallians who gave us the ‘real’ Itallian experience in everything that they did. From having 3 waiters at the table at once putting down and lifting various items, to the quick manner in which they fired questions at us to the dry jokes – The whole experience was a good laugh as well as a good meal. And it was facinating to see the large family working so briskly and efficiently around one another. They were quite simply, getting the job done. Unfortunately we did arrive for our meal too near to closing time and so it was some-what rushed, with plates being pulled out from under as as the last bite was still being chewed.. BUT only Itallians such as these could pull that kind of service off as a part of the total experience, and we really had no complaints.

SO! New York down!
And now we have already arrived in Las Vegas! (actually we arrive in Las Vegas a few days ago now..).. So I have yet more writing to catch up with!

Hello New York!

Righto, so after a 4.30am wake up on the morning of the 19th of December 2014, I arrived at the Toronto bus-port, ready for the long trip across the boarder and into New York. But from point one.. The trip was not as easy as it could have been…
I arrived on time, early! in fact for my 5.30am bus. But of course the bus scheduled to carry us across the boarder broke down on its way… Which meant we were delayed a whole hour while waiting for a replacement to turn up.. A whole hour in which I was standing out in the cold, breaking out in hives and vowing never to travel with Greyhound again.. But when the vessel eventually did arrive the difficulties were not over, thanks to one extremely annoying family who persisted to waste everyone’s time throughout this 13 hour journey… I must admit however, without their existence the trip was otherwise very mundane and consisted primarily of sleep and day dreaming. So, in summarizing my trip into America I will simply construct a list of the ways in which this family pissed us all off…

1. Upon boarding the family were obviously trying to load extra packages into the bus that had not been paid for and that were in excess of the baggage allowances per person for the trip. And I mean, I’m sure this happens all of the time.. Heck, I had far more luggage than was allowed.. BUT I was super sly.. I carried mine on as hand luggage in a manner in which made it look much lighter than it actually was.. And when it wouldn’t fit below my seat, I sacrificed my leg space to keep it on board, making the rest of the trip a painful burden on my tail bone.. These guys however… They employed the whole extended family to come along and real seedily stand beside the line of boarding passengers, passing parcels under the rope barricade.. I’m guessing what they intended for it to look like, was that they were all about to board.. because that way they could get the packages on board under the assumption by the driver that there was less than 1 package per person.. and then they could just walk away after they were tucked well within the under-bus luggage compartment… However they simply were not pulling that off… instead the whole affair looked more like a mafia mission.. And resulted in a half an hour argument between the family and the bus driver.. In which, the driver eventually gave in to their “I no speak English” stand point, and just put the extra box on the bus..

2. Well, eventually the journey started, and we did make it to the Canada/USA boarder.. An experience which I was not new to, thanks to a trip to Chicago earlier in the year. But of course I am aware that this does not mean that everyone knows how the whole process works.. Which was made apparent..
Basically when you cross this boarder everyone has to get off the bus with ALL of their bags – so that they can be scanned, and the whole “interview” process can be undergone. And as the bus driver was kind enough to unload all of our larger bags for us, all we had to do was get our hand luggage inside, have a quick talk to a boarder control officer (its always so easy to cross boarders as a Kiwi) and then re-load all of our things. AND as the bus was only about half full, the whole process passed pretty seamlessly and pretty quickly, and all of the passengers were re-loading their bags and re-boarding the bus in no time.. Finally the driver hopped back on.. The driver started up the engine.. And the annoying family father stood up… He had left his passport behind…And although he wasn’t aware of it at this point… It was not all he had forgotten to check for.. So we stopped the bus. And eventually left, second time round.

3. Our next stop, was the stop which the annoying family was due to get off at (Hurrah!). And here is where their greatest waste of all of our time took place.
As they de-boarded they moved to the side of the bus to collect their many, many boxes – which had inconvenienced everyone involved throughout this trip.. And… They were not there. SOMEHOW this one family, among everyone who crossed the boarder that day, had not got the message, that we were all re-checking our bags at the boarder.. Further, for SOME REASON between the security staff at the boarder and the Greyhound bus company, it had been decided that the boxes would not be returned to the bus, and the annoying family after the boarder security check.. but instead would be couriered to Texas….
It is really hard for me to point the finger in any one direction with the amount of information that I have about this incident. Especially as everyone was pleading innocent, and no one was accepting responsibility. BUT what I do know, is that MY time, and the time of every other passenger on board that day.. was spent. And a conversation which could have gone something along the lines of: Bus Driver – “Sorry, your boxes were taken at the boarder to be couriered to your final destination (assuming the family was actually on their way to Texas..), they will be there waiting for you when you arrive”. Annoying family – “Oh, OK!. Thank you, now we don’t have to lug them through the airport”…. In reality was dragged out into a silly argument that lasted too long, and was very poorly communicated.

4. Once the family had departed, the bus trip was as flawless as it could have been. The only problem I had from that point onward, was the massive and literal pain in my butt that had developed from an un-natural 12 hours seated… which was exaggerated by the fact that all of our rest stops were reduced to compensate for the 1.5 hour departure lag we suffered from the start..

But, alas, that evening, around 8pm.. After a very hard 12 hours on a too-small bus, with too few leg breaks.. I arrived in New York!
And it was a huge relief to find upon arrival that after hours of battling against dodgy internet reception and fading cellphone batteries.. Me and my little brother Shane actually were able to locate one another within the massive bus and train station that is the New York Port Authority terminal. Actually… I didn’t even so much find him.. Really, he skipped into a closing elevator at the last minute, right next to me, completely undetected, and I was quite determined not to see him until he called out my name as I began to exit 2 floors up.. It was lucky one of us was keeping an eye out..
And thank goodness we did find each other, because he then helped me to drag my excessive (over airline capacity) baggage several blocks through the city to our hotel – which I had undoubtedly underestimated the distance of.. The total trip must have taken just over an hour.. And I could NEVER have done it alone.. We ended up taking the blocks in turns, alternating between a massive, old, 23kg suitcase which mum bought for me second-hand on TradeMe several years ago.. and a small, modern, carry on bag which featured functional wheels (although… by the end of the trip they were used and broken..). Pretty much.. While the modern carry-on case served as a leisurely break for whoever was lucky enough to be dragging it along.. The big green case.. Was damn hard work. And we both have the sore backs and aching shoulder muscles to prove it today..
Carrying styles ranged from the over the shoulder to a desperate drag, and the walk was long, but also served as a team building exercise and a personal challenge if nothing else. And as Shane had arrived early the same morning, and was fortunate enough to have had the whole day to explore the city and gain a broad sense of bearings before my own arrival, he lead us confidently and actually.. flawlessly back to the hotel. Which was a blessing, because had we had to carry those bags a single additional block, it is very likely I would have simply given up and forgone all the clothing that the cases contained..

BUT we made it! and the hotel happily checked our bags, although they would not allow us to personally check in without the presence of mum – who had made the booking under her own name. So we easily took the excuse to go get some dinner just a short while down the road at Burger King, where we happily gulped down soda refills and reveled in the huge variety liquid, sugary goods that are so typically American. And of course we had a chance to catch up..
I find it recurrently crazy that I now have to put in an effort to ensure that I stay in touch with my little brother.. Seeing as we no longer live in the same household, like we always did growing up.. And I’m always shocked when I see him by how he tends to grow up, even when I’m not around to see it..
However despite this, I am also often surprised to see how alike we’ve become, and how similarly we think..
So, it was really pleasant to find myself not only in New York, but in New York with him.

And after dinner, we eventually dragged ourselves back to the hotel lobby and pretty much just sat around wasting time while waiting for mum and dad to turn up, so we could take our luggage upstairs and check out our room for the next few days..
We’re staying in a hotel called the Sheraton Tribeca, just a short subway ride out of the main CBD. It is actually really quite nice, and features some very lovely front desk staff and generally tidy, well kept rooms. But anyway.. After about two hours of semi-anxious waiting.. our parents finally joined us around midnight! And we were all excited to finally be reunited, after a long time abroad on my behalf (CANADA EXCHANGE).

SO this late arrival means that is wasn’t until around 2am – after hugs and welcomes and catch-ups – That we all finally started to drift off to sleep.
A long, but worthy first night in New York!